Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Listening to narratives of war
by Becknell, John M., Ph.D., Pacifica Graduate Institute, 2013, 217; 3561056
Abstract (Summary)

This study explores the lived experience of civilian nontherapists who voluntarily bear witness to veterans' first-person narratives of war in the United States. Mythology and anthropology demonstrate that listening to warriors' war stories was a common practice in many ancient and aboriginal societies. A growing body of contemporary study suggests today's veterans are best served by returning to civilian societies who listen to veterans and know their experiences. This research sought to document and understand the experience of civilian witnessing, its impact on witnesses, and whether or not the experience was valuable or perspective changing for the witnesses. The research deepens the understanding of the relationship between war veterans and civilian society and the communal holding of war memories.

Ethnographic, autoethnographic, and hermeneutic phenomenological methodological approaches were used, with the research process and data being viewed through the lenses of depth psychology and liberation psychology. Subjects for ethnographic study and opportunities for autoethnographic study were found through Soldier's Heart, a small nonprofit organization that regularly brings together civilians and veterans in retreat settings and in journeys that take veterans and civilian to places where wars were fought. Data were gathered through observation, conversation, formal interview, and the experiences of the researcher.

Bearing witness to the first-person narratives of veterans was a powerful and valuable experience for the witnesses represented in this study. Witnesses described the experience as a journey in which they moved from not listening to listening, from listening to hearing, from hearing to recognition, and from recognition to bearing witness. Witnesses reported gaining new insights about war, veterans, themselves, psyche, society and the importance of community. Witnesses reported new or deeper connections to veterans. For most witnesses, the experience challenged contemporary beliefs and practices about the relationship between veterans and civilians, and it brought new perspectives on the role nontherapists may play in veteran homecoming. While witnesses reported that the experience was at times difficult and painful, all found the experience personally valuable and saw the need for more civilians to become involved in listening to veterans. Keywords: witness, witnessing, bearing witness, veterans, narratives, storytelling, civilians.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Watkins, Mary
Commitee: Murdock, Maureen, Tick, Edward
School: Pacifica Graduate Institute
Department: Depth Psychology
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 74/09(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American studies, Communication
Keywords: Bearing witness, Narratives, Storytelling, Veterans, Witness, Witnessing
Publication Number: 3561056
ISBN: 978-1-303-07829-3
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